Bellator 222: “MacDonald vs. Gracie” takes place this inside Madison Square Garden in New York, N.Y., this weekend (Fri., June 14, 2019), streaming online exclusively on DAZN. The 170-pound title is up for grabs as division champion Rory MacDonald (20-5-1) faces the undefeated Neiman Gracie (9-0) as each man also battles to reach the Welterweight Grand Prix final tournament match.
Earlier in the evening, though, a battle of a completely different nature will take places as prospect Ricky Bandejas (11-2) challenges the undefeated Patrick Mix (10-0). Bandejas lost a close fight to Juan Archuleta at Bellator 214, but still holds the distinction of owning James Gallagher in a fight where Conor McGregor’s cocky teammate was left dazed on the canvas. Mix, a native of Buffalo, N.Y., had dreams of going to UFC, but seems more than happy to put on a show close to home at The Garden.
Bandejas recently spoke with MMAmania.com about an opportunity to rebound from his most recent loss at The Forum in Inglewood, Calif., in another world-renowned venue against Patrick Mix later this week.
“Ah, you know it’s a good match up. I always like to fight the best. If you look at my record you know the last guy I fought was 21-1. I like to just fight whoever they think the best is. I saw he signed with Bellator so I asked Bellator for that fight, and then I found out they were going to MSG so it just made it that much better.”
Speaking of his last fight, Archuleta is also featured on Bellator 222’s main card, facing former 135-pound champion Eduardo Dantas in a Featherweight bout. I asked Bandejas to reflect on his last fight in that light.
“You know, I’m a little disappointed in myself. I felt like I was a little hesitant, but that’s part of the game — it’s a learning experience. When you’re stepping up in competition it’s just another piece of the puzzle. I thought that was a little odd that he’s going up to 145, especially because I don’t know if Dantas is going up to 45 (permanently) too, I’m not too sure. That’s pretty crazy.”
Dantas has expressed a willingness to flex in both divisions and get his Bantamweight title back from Darrion Caldwell, which plays perfectly into the very next point Bandejas made.
“But, also Caldwell is putting our division on a little bit of a hold because he’s fighting Horiguchi, and if he wins I’m sure they do another one, a trilogy fight. So we’ve got some time before we get (to fight for) the belt.”
That’s only half of the dilemma, actually. Caldwell also has expressed his desire to take the title off Patricio “Pitbull” Freire and become a “champ-champ” himself.
“Yeah, that seems to be the new thing — champ-champ. People want to be champ-champ before they’ve even got one belt. It’s ridiculous. It cracks me up.”
Nevermind the bollocks (or the multiple titles) because here comes Bandejas, staying fully focused on re-establishing himself at 135 pounds against a prospect like Mix.
“Yes, you know, 10-0, it looks like he went the same route (as me). I heard that UFC didn’t want him for whatever reason, but now he’s over in Bellator and only helps us. It grows the division and it’s another young up-and-coming star for someone to match up with.”
Even though it’s a key divisional fight on a major Bellator MMA card, Bandejas says it’s entirely accidental that he wound up fighting at MSG on Friday night.
“When I read an article saying Pat Mix signed with Bellator, I asked Bellator for my next fight to be either Pat Mix or Eduardo Dantas. They ended up getting me Pat Mix and then coincidentally (at the) last minute they said it was (at) MSG.”
With the match-up that he wanted at a venue that’s just a couple hours northeast of home in Brick, N.J., Bandejas couldn’t be happy about being at The Garden.
“It’s awesome! For all fighters it’s like the Mecca, Mecca arena you fight at, let alone (for) MMA because it was recently (legally) allowed there, and then on top of that me being from New Jersey, tristate, it’s definitely an honor.”
As such Bandejas is expecting a very strong vocal contingent in the crowd when he comes out to face Mix on the main card (even though Mix is from New York himself).
“Easily 300 people just for me, wearing the t-shirts for me saying Bandejas.”
Although having so many supporters and at such a famous arena could bring a lot of pressure to bear, Bandejas is not concerned with that or how he’ll win the fight.
“I’ll just fight him like I did everybody else, except unlike Archuleta I would like to have a little more volume, more numbers in the punches and kicks — but come forward, push the pace, keep the cardio up. I know he’s looking to take me down, so just stuff the takedowns (to win).”
In closing, then what adjustments has Bandejas made since the Archuleta fight to achieve the desired outcome of greater output (and a big win) on Friday night?
“Maybe it was just that fight or his style but something that night made me throw not as much as I should. I feel like if I would have thrown a good 10 or 12 more punches each round, I definitely would’ve got the win. So I’m just keeping tabs on sparring, if I feel like I’m laying back a little bit, my coach has a couple of codes now to get the hands going a little more.”
If volume was the only difference between winning and losing then Ricky Bandejas and the team at Nick Catone MMA will definitely make it LOUD inside The Garden this weekend.
Complete audio of our interview is embedded above, and complete coverage of Bellator 222: “MacDonald vs. Gracie” resides here at MMA Mania all week long.
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